Category Archives: Methodology

Nye is no science guy, he is a science duufus

But the man has a microphone and a camera, and in the world today–that’s better than competence, that’s notoriety and fame.

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What is science? Is medicine and biology science? Let’s discuss

A regular commenter took off on the Economics is not a science discussion to suggest Medicine and Biology are not science. My answer below is, Sometimes and It Depends.


Much of medical and biological studies are observational and not do not qualify as science either.

Commenter says–It’s mostly just conjecture. “Well I suppose” leads to “maybe”. Not science.

People are talking about the movie “The Martian” and the phrase in there about “science the poop out of it” or something like that. Not science. Hard work, observation and engineering. In my dad’s day they knew the difference between science and engineering. Now anything even remotely technical is “science”.

Disagree with your dictionary definition. “3. any of the branches of natural or physical science.” Especially not. Also, “4. systematized knowledge in general”. Not. It’s science because it’s systematized? Huh? My grandkids legos are systematized in little bins but it’s NOT science. Good grief.

So, my turn.

In medicine we like the term evidence based and that means repeat, rinse, repeat and test your hypothesis against the evidence, that’s the critical scientific methodology.

In the complex world of biological structure and function, much of which is still not understood, there are lots of opportunities to to be wrong. Miss a confounder and your hypothesis is an empty one.

Good examples of biological science in action–Koch’s postulates for proving the cause of a disease, with particular emphasis on infectious diseases.

Another scientific method is the Bradford Hill rules on proving causation, for example beneficial or toxic effect, which look a lot like the Koch postulates for chemicals or physical effects on living organisms.

The Koch postulates can be used to disprove a cause of a infectious disease and modified to provide knowledge of non infectious diseases.

The Bradford Hill rules can be used to prove or disprove a toxic or beneficial effect of an exposure to a physical or chemical agent or condition. .

Koch’s postulates are the following:

1. The microorganism must be found in abundance in all organisms suffering from the disease, but should not be found in healthy organisms.
2. The microorganism must be isolated from a diseased organism and grown in pure culture.
3. The cultured microorganism should cause disease when introduced into a healthy organism.
4. The microorganism must be reisolated from the inoculated, diseased experimental host and identified as being identical to the original specific causative agent.

The Bradford Hill Rules can be turned for positive and negative evidence of effect, toxic or benificial.

The Bradford Hill Rules, from Wiki:

The Bradford Hill criteria for causation are a group of minimal conditions necessary to provide adequate evidence of a causal relationship between an incidence and a possible consequence, established by the English epidemiologist Sir Austin Bradford Hill (1897–1991) in 1965.

The list of the criteria is as follows:

1 Strength (effect size): A small association does not mean that there is not a causal effect, though the larger the association, the more likely that it is causal.
2 Consistency (reproducibility): Consistent findings observed by different persons in different places with different samples strengthens the likelihood of an effect.
3 Specificity: Causation is likely if there is a very specific population at a specific site and disease with no other likely explanation. The more specific an association between a factor and an effect is, the bigger the probability of a causal relationship.
4 Temporality: The effect has to occur after the cause (and if there is an expected delay between the cause and expected effect, then the effect must occur after that delay).
5 Biological gradient: Greater exposure should generally lead to greater incidence of the effect. However, in some cases, the mere presence of the factor can trigger the effect. In other cases, an inverse proportion is observed: greater exposure leads to lower incidence.
6 Plausibility: A plausible mechanism between cause and effect is helpful (but Hill noted that knowledge of the mechanism is limited by current knowledge).
7 Coherence: Coherence between epidemiological and laboratory findings increases the likelihood of an effect. However, Hill noted that “… lack of such [laboratory] evidence cannot nullify the epidemiological effect on associations”.
8 Experiment: “Occasionally it is possible to appeal to experimental evidence”.
Analogy: The effect of similar factors may be considered.

So, if you are honest about testing the postulates and the rules–you can produce reliable, reproducible explanations or you can prove up your hypothesis as valid. That’s evidence based science. You can’t cherry pick the rules however for the ones that work to prove your hypothesis. They come as a unit, and exceptions to the proof are less scientifically reliable. There are some exceptions, for example the organism sometimes are hard to culture in the case of Koch’s postulates.

A modification of the Koch’s postulates can provide diagnostic criteria for diseases that are not infectious.

If you hold to the rules, you can test a hypothesis, and in fact infectious disease, diagnostic nosology, pharmacology and toxicology can be made scientific.

Medicine is only science if it is scientific and evidence based–otherwise it may or may not be right based on observational anecdotal information or “fly by the seat of your experience or the experience of others,” but it is not scientific, evidence based medicine unless it is reproducible and falsifiable. When I say testable and reliably reproducible, that covers the Popper requirement that it be falsifiable.

An example of an organized effort to produce evidence based medicine is the Cochran Project that is devoted to gathering reliable medical research and identifying unreliable research.

Simple examples of the problem of reliable science in medicine is the confounder of an unknown or even known–some genetic unknown or the known problem of placebo effect. So that’s why when medicine gets serious it does Randomized Controlled studies that are blinded and placebo controlled to test drug effects.

In the case of the second inquiry–biology, the scientific knowledge of living things requires the use of chemistry, physics, and observational disciplines like anatomy and functional anatomy to determine both complex and not so complex functions of living things. Biology can begin with cold cuts, microscopic studies and chemical analysis to achieve reliable knowledge, but when we go to complex functionalities it gets harder.

One example is that at the cellular level anatomy and chemical functionality are not simple–they are as complex for the one-celled as the much more complex organism. No simple way to make DNA reproduce or membranes function properly, so bacteria have the same cellular complexities as the cell of an elephant or a human.

Ah, yes, to define science–and here we go on why economics is not science

Our friendly, usually, economist goes to the dictionary to prove I am wrong about economics. As an economist he wants to pull economics out of the dumpster, but I really didn’t put economics in a dumpster, I just said it wasn’t science it was an area of inquiry, a social study.

So here we go, the dictionary definition of science–proof that economics is a science. My responses in bold, not be cause I am better or older or louder, just to distinguish.

Dictionary Definition of Science-


1. a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws:

Woops, Laws–and the laws of economics are established as proven and reliable in proving or predicting future events–Not

the mathematical sciences.

Again, woops, enticing that mathematics can be used to make economics look scientific–formulae that look like the key to kingdom of knowledge–see 1a for why that doesn’t make economics science.

2. systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation.

Systematic is a subjective and tautological thing–reliable, reproducible, falsifiable, is science. Economics does involve observation and experimentation, but the experimentation doesn’t produce reliable rules or laws that predict a future result. Again, woops.

3. any of the branches of natural or physical science.

Easy, if I declare voodoo a branch of the biological or physical sciences, does that make what voodoo says a rule or a law reproducible, reliable or falsifiable? The Philosophy of Science is focused on what is good Science (Consider what Karl Popper and Richard Feynman have to say and test the theories of economics against their methods. Science must be falsifiable–economics is often not.

4. systematized knowledge in general.

I can’t help but draw a parallel with the “systematic” and internally consistent theories of many non scientific disciplines–Freudian theory for example, or any of a number of philosophical systems espoused by smart, clever and eloquent men who had no, absolutely no, scientific proof of their particular version of philosophy whether it be Metaphysics, Teleology or Ontology, Ethics, Morals, Aesthetics, and particularly those systems that assume a divine being or nothing more than I think, therefore I am. Would anyone dispute that philosophers are systematic–but reliable,reproducible, falsifiable–I think not.

5. knowledge, as of facts or principles; knowledge gained by systematic study.

Again, a simple example will suffice, Chiropractors or Voodoo Priests assert knowledge, and have a systematic canon or tradition, but can their knowledge be confirmed by reliable evidence. I would not blame economists for being voodoo priests, but then again?

6. a particular branch of knowledge.

see answer to 5

7. skill, especially reflecting a precise application of facts or principles; proficiency.

There is a skill in being a good cargo cult fake scientist or even a magician, but does a faker, a fraud, an illusionist use that skill and method to do good reproducible science and do they insist on good evidence to support an hypothesis? An expansion on that statement is unnecessary.

Next time you want to go on about how something is ‘not a science’ you might want to refer to the actual definition of science.

Wow, what a devastating come back, but, being a scientist myownself and a lawyer with a particular interest in scientific evidentiary admissibility, not an economist trying to make the discipline scientific, I accept with some reservations the extensive and intense as well as profound commentaries of Karl Popper, philosopher of science.

Karl was very reluctant to accept inductive reasoning as a satisfactory scientific method, asserting that induction introduces a lot of subjective opinion and intellectual passion (sound a little like economics?). So Popper insisted and so did Richard Feynman (physicist nobel prize, brilliant guy), on deductive testing and validation of the evidence to assure that science was being spoken and practiced. Many commentaries say that Popper (probably they would say the same about Feynman) are too hard on inductive methods, which often propose good stuff. However, Popper and Feynman would say, and do say–propose your theory, your hypothesis–then, damn it, test it to make sure your theory is valid, falsifiable (can be tested) and then found to be reproducible and verifiable, not just a nice idea.

Science demands testing and skepticism, validation and intense efforts to assure the method of falsification was not only in play but exercised properly.

As a guy named Einstein said once–the most elegant theory can be disproved by one experiment.

Economists can’t stand the heat of that fire of skepticism and validation, the furnace, the cauldron, the mortar and pistil of testing and validation. Nice, attractive, even eloquent theories are not science. Economcis is full of them. Physics usually weeds them out with some experiments in the ideal, scientific, reliable skeptical way.

My observation is that economists are not skeptical about their work, they love themselves and their ideas–and then go out to find proof they are the genius that they admire.

So Keynes is an idiot, just the many idiots that proposed idiotic scientific theories–but the science idiots are gone and I still have Krugman and so many others that love government meddling with the economy.

Let’s revisit the reasons why economics is not a science

An angry econ guy recently called me names for asserting that economics is not a science–well here comes some more proof of my case.

Commentary in this essay is on Federal Reserve
Research makes my case very well.

I would remind all of you out their that econometrics and microeconomics as well as macroeconomics theory and practice, including their very sophisticated formulae, are great examples of trans science, cargo cult science, something that looks like science but can’t make the grade, can’t pass the Popper test of falsifiability.

I still think Economics is a very important and worthwhile area of inquiry and intelligent observations and commentary are constantly flowing from economist research and study, but think of economics like psychology and social studies–too many variables, too complex and too many confounders, not enough replicability and reproducibility.

Let the games begin. Please don’t start off by accusing me of being a stupid physician/lawyer. My momma encouraged me to go to school and learn things and she would be upset to hear such things said about her oldest son. I have brothers and sisters who are smarter and better educated than me, but I try.

Thomas Sheahan, Physicist of Great Repute, discusses the Nobel Prize discovery in physics–neutrino talk

Of the many people I communicate with, or you might say I run along with, Thomas Sheahan is one of the most accomplished. Continue reading

Guardian publishes a no brainer–economics is not a science

I thought that economics was more than it is when I was first attracted to it 25 years ago. I figured since economics is so influential in the public sphere, it had good methods.

When I read von Mises, Hayek, Sowell, Hazlitt, Skousen and others, I was educated to the limits of economics as a social science–it is a study of human economic behavior–and limited by the complexities of human action (I stole that from von Mises). Continue reading

Theodore Dalrymple on research integrity and particularly the problem of drug trials

Dalrymple is a favorite of mine and discusses the problem of research probity and reliabiity in circumstanes where subjects are paid volunteers. Continue reading